Cuba deal buoys hopes for Yucatán ferry

Map: VOA/Google/Staff
Map: VOA/Google/Staff
Map: VOA/Google/Staff

U.S. approval of ferry service between Florida and Cuba is a hopeful sign for a future Yucatán-Florida route.

“The fact is we are getting a very cooperative response from all Mexican officials about the ferry service approvals since the Cuba ferry became a reality,” Bruce Nierenberg, CEO of United Caribbean Lines, told Yucatán Expat Life.

United Caribbean and four other operators were granted licenses Tuesday to ply the Florida Straits to Havana, a revival for an industry that has been dormant for more than half a century.

 
Nierenberg (Photo: LInkedIn)
Nierenberg (Photo: LInkedIn)

Nierenberg, who has more than 40 years experience in the cruise industry, and his partner Alex Panagopulos, who runs the European shipping company Arista, are looking at several ports in South Florida and Central Florida for their ferry service to Cuba, the Miami Herald reports.

Reaching this milestone has given Nierenberg a reason, after numerous disappointments, to feel optimistic about reaching Yucatán.

“We still have a lot to do but I expect to have the arrangements for the Mexican service done by summer and then the start of service by the end of the year or winter 2016,” Nierenberg said yesterday.

Service between Cancun and Cuba is another possibility. Nierenberg has spent years trying to establish a ferry network in the Caribbean, modeled on ferryboat lines that serve the Mediterranean.

“It is going to happen. Tell your readers to keep the faith,” he added.

 

{ Related: Ferry service to New Orleans in talks }

In the 1950s before the Cuban Revolution, ferries frequently carried Cubans on shopping excursions and Americans on getaways to the island. But before any service can begin, the U.S. Coast Guard must approve the potential Cuban ports of entry and the companies, including Nierenberg’s, must negotiate dock access and other details with the Cuban government.

The U.S. and Cuba have restored diplomatic relations, but Americans are still not allowed to go to the island for vacation unless it’s under the heading of a family trip, educational, professional and other purposeful travel.

Nierenberg has envisioned two weekly ferries from Tampa to Progreso, although several ports along the Gulf or Caribbean could be in play, with service for up to 1,500 passengers and 600 cars. Travel time will be about 30 hours each way.

Twelve years ago, the 322-cabin “Yucatan Express” connected Progreso with Tampa with a 36-hour journey, but the venture lost millions of dollars. But passengers enjoyed liberal luggage policies, the convenience of bringing their cars, and private cabins with showers and buffet meals.

Current plans involve a combination passenger and car/cargo vessel, according to the Enjoy Cozumel blog. “You will be able to bring your cars and pets,” Nierenberg said, estimating a fee of $350 round trip including cabin, meals, entertainment and casino options.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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